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Dr. Bill Pivonka
It was early summer, 1959 when a young Bill Pivonka took to the road. To his back was his home in Atchison, Kansas and somewhere ahead the Kansas City skyline awaited him. He was fresh from graduate school, a new doctor of organic chemistry who had only days before, for some forgotten reason, refused a teaching position at the University of Louisiana. Kansas City would hold a job for him, he thought, so he headed east. But he never quite made it to the city; he came up ten miles short. His destiny, it seems, was just miles northwest of there in a historic town called Parkville, Missouri.
"You have to teach students not subjects." -Dr. Pivonka
As Dr. Pivonka drove the last remaining stretch of his trip, he happened upon Park University. Of course at that time it was Park College, but still the Mackay spire rose stately from the Missouri bluffs to catch his eye. On instinct, or perhaps calling, he turned in and inquired about a teaching position. "I needed a job, and they had an opening in their chemistry department," Dr. Pivonka remembers. It was as simple as that. And Park's history was forever changed.
For the next thirty-six years Dr. Pivonka taught chemistry at Park according to his motto: "you have to teach students, not subjects". He worked exceedingly hard both as a professor and as Findlay Chair of Science to connect with every student and invent ways to relate his subjects to every mind in his classroom. Students apparently took notice; three times they honored him with an Outstanding Park Professor award. The state and the nation took notice, too. He once received the Governor's Award for Excellence in Education and twice received Outstanding Educators of America distinctions. Dr. Pivonka also won the first federally funded academic grant in the history of Park. And he coauthored the Challenge Curriculum at Park in the early 1960s.
Certainly Dr. Pivonka's impact on Park flourished in professorship, but it did not end there. For six years he was an academic dean during which time he started Park's evening and summer school programs and stopped a Board of Trustees motion to close the university due to insolvency. But always the students were his focus. Seeing them graduate and, perhaps, pursue graduate school or professional school were his proudest moments of all.
His students are proud of him, as well. They have honored his commitment to them and to education, his leadership and his loyalty. He taught them more than chemistry, they insist. As long as they did their best, gave it an honest shot and rolled with the punches, he told them, their success would be far greater in life. They have initiated an endowed scholarship in his name with the intention of awarding a full scholarship to a hard-working Park University student of chemistry. It is their hope that Park University will always be as fortunate as it was on the fortuitous day that Dr. William C. Pivonka turned in, on a whim, to apply for a job at Park University.